Schoolyard Soldiers: The Art of Adapting the Art of War

In: Journal of Chinese Military History
Paul van Els Leiden University

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Frank Witkam Rikkyo University

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The Art of War (or Sun Tzu) abounds with practical strategic and tactical advice which, while intended for use in warfare, can be applied to almost any professional or personal crisis or conflict. In recent decades this ancient Chinese military classic has been adapted for a variety of non-military purposes in fields as diverse as trade, law, sports, and love. Intrigued by the text’s seemingly limitless applicability, this article analyzes when, where, why, and how present-day adapters applied the ancient military text to modern non-military issues. The article also reflects on the value of Art of War adaptations, especially vis-à-vis translations, as it highlights the diverse ways in which an age-old Chinese text is made relevant to modern readers worldwide.

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